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Reflections From a New World Traveler

African American news from Pasadena - Lifestyle and Education - Ife Sangode-Olaitan on Study Abroad Program in Cuba and Costa RicaClose your eyes. Imagine yourself sitting down with a warm breeze hitting your body and blowing your dress in the wind. You hear people laughing, glasses clincking, someone loudly announcing that they're selling peanuts or sweets, and musicians from all different directions playing Salsa or a soft melodic Latin genre of music.

This is a typical scene out the chapters of my amazing journey to Cuba. This summer I spent one week in Costa Rica and four weeks in Cuba for a study abroad program and to say the least it was a very eye opening and enjoyable experience.

In Cuba, I learned about different Cuban cultural practices and traditions, history, politics, etc... One of my favorite things we closely looked into was the Afro- Cuban culture. You can see a strong African influence in Religion, food preparation, music, dance, and most obviously, the physical appearance of the people. It was a beautiful thing to see people of a whole spectrum of skin tones, ranging from very dark skin to very light embracing each other as family.

I've realized that as "United Statiens" we often think of ourselves as the center of the world and we label others in a clump as "everyone else". People have the tendency to take what they see in the media or have been taught by those in authority and assume it to be true. For example, when I first told people that I would be going on this trip, I got a mix of responses. Most were excited and encouraging, while others were happy for me but confused as to why I'd want to go to a "poor, scary or oppressed" country. Indeed Cuba is a Socialist and relatively poor county. However, the plethora of things I learned from Cuba will not go unnoted. The country is amazingly beautiful and has so much history, art, music and a beautiful combination of African, Spanish and Indigenous culture. The people were so welcoming and willing to sit down and talk with you, share with you and dance with you.

Two out of the many things I took away from living in Cuba are; One: The importance of trades and hobbies. Two: The nonstop speed we travel at in the U.S. No matter what your career is, in Cuba, people make roughly the same amount of money. Because of this, sometimes people rely on their trades, hobbies, or skills as side-jobs. I met a woman who makes delicious marmalade from the Guava tree her and her husband have in their back yard. I met several talented artists who sell their paintings wherever possible, musicians playing on the street, in parks, restaurants and/or selling cd's, hair stylists, nail manicurists and mechanics making parts for their 1950's Chevrolet, for example.

Number Two. One of the most important things I will forever keep close to me: Slow Down.

In the United States, we move at such a fast pace, we forget about the little things we have to be grateful for. We are constantly working, obviously for important reasons, rushing to get somewhere, and to complete our day full of appointments and meetings. The Costa Rican motto is "Pura Vida", meaning Pure Life in Spanish and they are very laid-back and take their time so they can appreciate the little things. Life is a little faster in Havana Cuba, but there is still the same type of mentality. People have to work to make a living for themselves, but they take the time to laugh, relax, stroll down the street or to a plaza, drink with friends, and dance and play music with their buddies wherever is most convenient. They take the time to enjoy the beauty in life and the people they have around them.

[Ife is a student at Cal State University Northridge, majoring in Psychology. You may reach her for questions or comments at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or at The Journal Offices: (626) 798-3972.]



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